The result for mobile enterprise applications has been a kind of client/server architecture, where the mobile client must be fully usable in stand-alone mode, caching data for upload and downloading updates when an air or wire-line connection is available. To avoid costly one-off development projects for mobile devices, developers need to figure out how to adapt applications already deployed in the enterprise, The Yankee Group's Zawel observes. "The real challenge is to decide what needs to be on the device all the time and what's needed in real time -- and to take an existing application and separate those components," he says.
Such trade-offs manifest themselves in interesting ways. Take CooperVision, a manufacturer of contact lenses that has deployed PalmOne's Tungsten W handhelds to 70 sales reps across the country. The PDAs run a custom-built sales-force-automation application, but they're also equipped with GPRS modems for wireless cellular access so the reps can deal with e-mail while sitting in an optometrist's office waiting to make a pitch. To upload orders from the SFA application into the corporate database, however, they must synchronize their Palms through their desktop PCs.
Connected through the air or not, automating manual tasks for the first time generally yields the biggest ROI, just as with any other technology area. "In field service applications, you can automate workflow from the time the call is generated to the time the bill is sent out," says Dave Werezak, vice president of the enterprise business unit at RIM. Deployments that combine e-mail with such line-of-business functions are slowly proliferating.
"You still have to characterize it as an early-stage market," says Summit's Wilson. "But we're starting to see an increasing number of deployments of hundreds and even thousands of workers and devices scattered around different industries."
The most compelling mobile deployments pursue multiple benefits. In a pilot project at Bedford, Freeman & Worth, a textbook division of Macmillan Publishing, high-end iPaqs have landed in the hands of 12 of the company's 70 sales representatives in North America. "Before this, at the end of the day they'd go home and spend two hours responding to e-mails and requesting sample textbooks be sent to professors," notes Paul Lentz, BFW's CRM project manager. "They asked us to decrease their administrative work so they could increase their time in front of customers."
Because they have the time and the tools, Lentz says, the salespeople can submit information into a knowledge management system that all the editors can access. "This helps us in terms of being a real-time enterprise," he says. The sales reps may interact with professors who are in the forefront of their field, revealing new teaching or research methods from which the editors can benefit. "The handhelds allow them to gather information everyone knows is out there but no one internally can get their hands on. An editor might find out something about a professor at a regional sales meeting, but by then it's too late. Some other publishing company has gotten that person to write a book."